Thursday, April 27, 2017

If my people . . . (2 Chronicles 7:14)

These days, the Word of God is scorned, public prayer diminished, Christianity pushed out of schools, and faith considered old-fashioned and foolish. However, those behind this thinking are often also dismayed at the increase in violence and crime, a growing lack of respect for human life, and the inability of politicians, law enforcement, or anyone else to do anything about it.

Those of us who believe in Jesus Christ sometimes shake our heads also, wondering why the world seems to be falling apart. However, the Scriptures have the answer. It is found in the history of ancient Israel. Nearly 600 years before Christ, the prophet Ezekiel was given these words:
“And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:10–11)
Their world was in similar trouble as ours. They had been told not to abandon their faith in God, but they persisted in going their own way. They faked a form of worship by performing the rituals, but their hearts were far from it and their ‘religion’ mocked God.

Even earlier in their history, the Lord gave them a similar message but with more specific detail about their hypocrisy:
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?” says the Lord; “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:11–20)
The devotional writer says this is the answer to why our world is coming unglued. We cannot persist in avoiding God, resisting truth, putting aside His Word, ignoring His principles, and doing our own thing without experiencing consequences.

He adds that those who eternally perish will be without excuse. It isn’t because their sins are too awful that they cannot be forgiven. It isn’t God’s idea or desire that they perish. It will not be because of any failure on the part of Jesus Christ or a lack of His willingness. He gladly gives eternal life to all who come to Him in faith. He says to all: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’

But He also says, ‘I have called, and you have refused’ and ‘You will not come to me that you might have life.’

Sin always brings disaster into my life; a hard lesson learned. But I have also learned that relying on Christ is never a mistake. He does not let me down, but gives me surprising peace, blessing, and even wisdom during perplexities. It is entirely obvious that if my situation begins to deteriorate, I cannot shift the blame on anything or anyone else when I’ve caused that deterioration by trying to do my own thing.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” (Proverbs 3:5–10)
Oh, my Lord Jesus Christ. I know You take care of Your people, but I cannot ignore You, nor can I play at ‘religion’ and be a hypocrite. Instead, Your people must not let the world press us into its mold and assume there will be no consequences. I’m so sad at the junk that fills the daily news. Truly, I need Your grace and wisdom — as do all Your people. Help us be lights in this world. Forgive our backslidings and bring revival to our land.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Bible is filled with figures of speech

One of the first things writers learn is the form and use of figures of speech. Readers also need to learn that these are not taken literally (It’s raining cats and dogs) yet must realize that every language uses them to illustrate powerful truths. They are not always as obvious as a familiar cliché.

I’m amused at the US president’s use of figures of speech. Most of them are hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point) but others not as obvious are often interpreted by the press as literal, throwing their understanding of what he is saying into a confusing tailspin.

The same is true for much of the Bible. The psalmist speaks of hiding in the shelter of God’s wings — but that does not mean God is a chicken! However, their use does not mean God’s Word should be interpreted allegorically. We use them often yet all we say is not allegory; the context usually shows what is literal and what is not.

The same is true with Scripture. However, like today, the people in those days didn’t always understand this use of language. Jesus was talking in a synagogue in Capernaum and told the crowd:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews had a big argument among themselves. They said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:47–59)

This was puzzling to them, but also to His disciples. When they heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:60–63)

Jesus was using a figure of speech. Eating His flesh and drinking His blood are not literal concepts; they are about “spirit and life” — He was telling people that their relationship to Him is like ‘devouring’ truth, like ‘eating Him up’ as we would say to a darling child. In context, Jesus emphasizes to His audience that they must hunger for Him as food because He is necessary to their very life.

Today’s devotional says that no one can faithfully preach the gospel of Christ without offending people. He gives various reasons. The main one is that being called a sinner is offensive to human pride and dignity. It takes a whack at our wisdom too, because no one can know spiritual truth unless God reveals it. If anyone gets that far in their understanding, they also discover from the gospel that they can do nothing to save themselves; we must bow to Christ and receive His grace as a gift, or otherwise perish.

While these truths and other aspects of the gospel are offensive, so also are figures of speech that make no sense. Imagine being in a foreign country and someone calls you a ‘door knob’ or a ‘closed opportunity’ or some other ambiguous phrase that you cannot interpret. Confusion can quickly turn to frustration, embarrassment, or a sense of shame, even anger.

Several hundred biblical figures of speech are a challenge for interpretation. Following Christ is about commitment and surrender. In many cases, to ‘get’ what He is saying, it also demands study and determination to learn. Not only do I need to know for myself the nature and usage of biblical figures of speech, I need to know them so I can clarify the gospel to others.

Jesus, I’m not sure what most offended those disciples who turned away from You after You used this unusual figurative language. It may have been that You asked of them more than they were prepared to surrender, or that what You asked simply went over their heads since they were upset that they could not understand You. Whatever it was, my prayer is to be able to speak and write truth clearly, especially in the use of figures of speech. These may be understood or misunderstood, accepted or rejected, but whatever the response, I don’t want it to be about me being inept in their delivery.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Good news, good news!

Much of the New Testament is so consistent in thought that it is possible to pick two passages and run them together. While this ignores context and proper exegesis, and could be extremely silly, this morning’s two passages combine to say this:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand. (1 Corinthians 15:1) I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:14–17)

Because Paul was so passionate to tell others the good news, his writing often does just that. In some places, he gives a condensed version:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4)

In other places, he writes very long sentences. He also inserts the gospel in sections that are mostly about something else because the gospel is his passion.

The devotional writer has a passion for the gospel too. He explains five things that characterize it. His list may be correct, yet God can use many ways and many methods to deliver His message to those who need to hear it. He may do it all at once, or in stages. That is, when sharing it, God might put on my heart only part of this list because He knows the hearts of those who listen. Sometimes one thought is all they are ready to hear. They need to chew on that truth before they are ready for the next one.

Scripture says the same truth in several ways also. Here are the five that today’s devotional says are essential to hearing God’s good news:

First, the gospel honors the holiness of God and His desire to see His righteousness fulfilled. We cannot do that, but Jesus did, and Jesus became our righteousness.

Second, the gospel teaches that Jesus died as a sacrifice to satisfy God’s justice. He took on Himself the penalty of sin that we deserve.

Third, the gospel declares that salvation is by grace through faith. We can do nothing to earn or deserve it; Jesus secured it for us — and therefore no one can boast or rest on their own efforts!

This is because the gospel is the work of Christ alone. There are no additional conditions, good works, or anything else God wants from us. The good news is free to all; the only thing that can exclude anyone is unbelief.

Last, the gospel is complete in Christ. He declared “It is finished” from the cross. The debt is paid, salvation is accomplished. Those who believe it are saved forever, rescued and kept by the almighty power of God. We are secure now and for eternity.

I’ve been thinking how belief affects values, and values influence behavior. With this good news, I cannot help but imagine what believing the gospel would do in our crazy, unpredictable world. Such a foundation would change values and behavior big time!

As for me, Jesus is my righteousness. He give me options I never had before. I can now choose how I live and who I will rely on for the decisions I make. I have the capacity to live a godly life.

Jesus bore my penalty. I no longer need to fear death or the wrath of God. I am free to live without any threats about the end of it or of impending judgment.

Jesus saves me. My efforts are futile. This is a confidence builder but also humbling. There is no place for pride or a poor-me false humility. He becomes the focus, and He takes care of selfish motivations while He is at it.

Jesus is not only the object of my faith, but a worthy object. He did it all and is worthy of all worship and praise. I can rest in the reality of a joyful relationship with Him, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is my assurance that God loves me. I am in His kingdom and in His family, secure, and with an eternal purpose.

Jesus also keeps me from being anxious that I will mess up and lose this blessed gift. What can I do to lose that which I didn’t do anything to gain? Again, He takes care of it all. I am free to live as God intended me to live.

Dear Lord Jesus, someone said that a person needs to hear the gospel every day. If there is no preacher, I can always preach it to myself, and when I do, I can sense Your smile and hear You say, “Amen.”